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AUGUST 5, 1962 MARILYN MONROE WAS FOUND DEAD IN HER BEDROOM

August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bedroom, face down, with a telephone in her hand.

It was on the front page of the L.A. Times. I was working at Household Finance at the time, taking buses to and from work. We had rented an apartment on Sarah Street in North Hollywood; it took me several buses trips, with transfers, to get to work or back home again. I decided to walk the last lap down Hollywood Boulevard, and there it was, in a newspaper rack, front page, Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn’s death had a profound effect on me; it was my first experience with the death of someone famous, who lived not far from where I worked in Hollywood.

I became acquainted with a coworker who began giving me trips to and from work—it didn’t occur to me to offer to pay her for it – I really was naïve about a lot of things when I was not yet twenty two years old. Friendships came and went in my early years of living in Southern California. In early 1963, I flew back to Cincinnati with Michael, when I became pregnant and wanted my own OB-GYN to take care of me, following a serious miscarriage in 1962. Jim followed a month later. I went back to the office where I was working, along with my sister in law, Dee, Williams Directory, before we went to California. I asked for my old job back – the manager asked when I could start. “Right now!” I said and was given a typewriter to work on. I worked until 2 weeks before Steve’s birth. Then I developed a blood clot in my right leg and was unable to do Anything for six weeks. A girlfriend came to help take care of me and Steve. My sister in law, two doors down, took care of Michael when Jim couldn’t.

Meanwhile, Jim worked briefly at a job and was laid off. One day I had $5 for baby food. We went to my mother’s and she gave us half of what was in her freezer. Then we went to my sister Becky’s, and she gave me half of everything in her pantry. I cried all the way home.

“I’m NOT going to live this way,” I told Jim on our way home. “We need to go back to California (where I knew he could find a job). Steve was born in August. In December we were driving across country over icy roads even on the expressway. It didn’t cross my mind that we were risking the lives of two young children—I had faith in Jim’s capability behind the wheel.

We rented an apartment in Toluca Lake and both of us found jobs at Weber Aircraft. That’s where 1964 found us living and working.

I didn’t drive yet – a coworker at Weber Aircraft, a few years later, taught me how to drive on our lunch hours. It took me a few years to grasp that going to and from work on a bus wasn’t very easy to do. Once I had my driver’s license I began driving a 1956 Chevrolet that Jim had bought. I shook with fear every time I got behind the wheel of the car; I was a nervous Nellie for a long time. When I was taking my driver’s test with a DMV employee in the car with me, I shook with fear. He asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I said, “I’m just nervous about taking this test” – I think he passed me out of compassion for my fear.
This was one small segment of my life-of our lives–in the 1960s.

–Sandra Lee Smith

THE ORIGINS OF WEIRD RECIPES

You have to stop and wonder, sometimes, about the origins of some recipes. I can imagine how some of them might have come about—I can picture myself making a chocolate cake and suddenly realizing I don’t have enough eggs or oil. I might think hmmmm, mayonnaise is made up from oil and eggs—I wonder if I can just substitute half a cup of mayo for the missing oil and eggs—and voila! I’ve just created chocolate mayonnaise cake.

This makes perfect sense to me. And in case you are wondering, the recipe is very good. Equally delicious are chocolate mayonnaise cookies—I took them to work a few times and was almost embarrassed to divulge the recipe. What could be easier? Chocolate cake mix, some mayonnaise and one or two other ingredients.

But sauerkraut cake? Somehow I just can’t picture the lady of the kitchen thinking, gee, I don’t have any coconut for my coconut cake—maybe I’ll just open up a can of sauerkraut and rinse it off and no one will ever know it isn’t coconut…I certainly wouldn’t risk ruining a recipe I had already started, with an ingredient that is so totally off the wall. And what about avocado cake or pinto bean cake? What were those culinary artists THINKING?

You have to wonder about tomato soup cake too (granted, it’s delicious) – but whose idea was it to throw in a can of tomato soup to make a spice cake? Was it someone experimenting in the Campbell Soup Kitchen, or a housewife with a little too much time on her hands? (No one seems to know the origin of tomato soup cake although it does appear in some of the older Campbell Soup cookbooks). Note: the oldest reference I have found for tomato soup cake is in a 1940 cookbook.

There are a lot of off the wall (i.e. weird) recipes. Enough that in 1977 a local (Southern California) radio show host, Geoff Edwards of KMPC in Los Angeles, put together a cookbook of wacky recipes and titled it “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING COOKBOOK”. Listeners sent in the recipes. All of the above were included—although I have seen them all elsewhere—and then some. There is even an authentic recipe for stuffed Roast Camel. Geoff said it was served sometimes at Bedouin weddings. Ew, Ew. That ranks right up there with Spam mousse, as far as I am concerned. I’ll take your word for it that it’s delicious. (Per Google, Tang is a sweet and tangy, orange-flavored, non-carbonated soft drink can be found at Tops, Wegmans, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aide, Walmart, and Target—so it’s STILL available.)

As for tomato soup cake AKA Mystery Cake this appears to have originated in the 1920s when cake was usually topped off with Philadelphia Cream Cheese frosting and we all have to admit, that’s pretty good frosting. I especially like the cream cheese frosting with carrot cake—and although most of us have become accustomed to carrot cake and zucchini bread—don’t you have to wonder whose idea it was to toss these things into cake batter in the first place? That was before we took up gardening and discovered how zucchini can take over a back yard garden patch and your life. You have to DO something with all those squashes—friends and neighbors will only take so many zucchinis even if you resort to leaving them wrapped in a baby blanket on their front porch. (I once delivered a large zucchini wrapped in a baby blanket to a co-worker). And whether you make zucchini bread or cake – either, I guarantee, is delicious. One of my favs is a chocolate zucchini cake and as a result of the zucchinis taking over our back yard, I began collecting zucchini recipes until I had filled a recipe box with them.

Do you suppose that the lady (or man) of the kitchen was thinking – well, carrot or zucchini worked pretty good in a cake – I wonder what will happen if I try adding red beets – and invented Harvard Beet Spice Cake? Or was it just some exhausted mother tired of trying to talk her kids into eating their veggies? I know how that can go. I raised four picky eaters. They got it from their father, King of the Picky Eaters. I often resorted to subterfuge. I dearly loved a fish almondine recipe that my penpal Betsy, in Michigan, once sent to me. The fish was topped off with slivered or shaved almonds. No one in my household would eat almonds in a “food dish” though. So I blended the almonds with bread crumbs and used it as a topping over the fish. They never knew.

So, do you suppose that the original creator of pink beet cake was some harried housewife, exhausted from trying to get her kids to eat their veggies, so she dumped a can of red beets into the cake batter and thought to herself hmmm, there’s more than one way to…. Et al.
And every time I think I have said all I need to say on a subject, I happen to come across something else. While sorting through an overflow of cookbooks (I am always sorting through an overflow of cookbooks), I found one that looked interesting and hadn’t read…a book titled CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE by Al Sicherman. CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE was published in 1988 by Harper & Row.
The author joined the Minneapolis Star & Tribune in 1968. A copy editor since 1981, Siherman has been writing articles for the food section of the Star & Tribune. Mr. Sicherman is a kindred spirit, the kind of person who ALSO wondered about pinto beans and avocadoes turning up in your cake batter. He wrote a piece called “Things that go bump in the Oven” and speculated how Catherine Hanley ever came up with the Tunnel of Fudge Cake recipe—he even called her up to ask—and he wonders about things like Impossible Pies (which we all know and love). Well, all of us who are well versed in, and collect the Pillsbury Bake-Off books, know the Tunnel of Fudge story and it appears that Impossible Pies were an accident, created by some unknown person.

(I thought the first Impossible Pie was an impossible coconut pie—the recipe appeared in a 1974 Cheviot (Ohio) PTA cookbook that my sister Becky was involved in creating. Here’s what I uncovered sleuthing on Google:

The origins of Impossible Pie (aka mystery pie, coconut amazing pie) are sketchy at best. A survey of newspaper/magazine articles suggests this recipe originated in the south (where coconut custard pies are popular). It was “discovered” by General Mills (Bisquick) and General Foods, who capitalized on the opportunity to promote their products. Corporate recipes surfaced in the mid-1970s. There are conflicting reports about the dates of introduction. The earliest recipe we have on file was published in 1968. None of the ingredients are name-brand.
This article sums up the situation best:

“Amazing. Mysterious. It could be none other than Impossible Pie, one of the most successful corporate recipe projects in the U.S. food-marketing history. Versions of Impossible Pie were also named Mystery Pie or Amazing Coconut Pie. By any name, though, Americans took to the easy recipe that is adaptable for making both sweet dessert pies and savory meat, vegetable and cheese pies. Back when quiche was trendy, the Impossible Pie formula called for ingredients similar to those for quiche yet eliminated the need to make a separate pastry crust…Not one but two huge food corporations benefited by popularizing the simple recipe formula for the Impossible Pie mixtures: the two big “Generals.” One was the Minneapolis-based General Mills, home of mythical Betty Crocker and maker of Bisquick all-purpose baking mix. The other was General Foods of White Plains, N.Y., marketer of Angel Flake processed coconut…The real mystery: Where did this recipe originate? We know the two “Generals” took a basic formula and then developed variations to showcase their respective products. Lisa Van Riper, spokeswoman for Kraft General Foods, said the company’s well-advertised recipe for Amazing Coconut Pie, “was developed as a result of a creative adaptation of the Bisquick Impossible Pies. We took a Bisquick Impossible Pie and did a creative twist by adding coconut, raisins and some other things. That was developed in June 1976 by our test-kitchen’s task force from a recipe submitted by various sources. Essentially that source was the Bisquick Impossible Pie. The Amazing Coconut Pie recipe also forms its own crust–with the baking mix sinking to the bottom of a custard mixture–and has been used ever since 1976, according to Van Riper. General Mills’ Marcia Copeland, director of Betty Crocker foods and publications, recalls that “we first saw the recipe for (crustless) coconut custard pies in Southern community cookbooks.” So it was a grass-roots recipe first, origin unknown. Some very old community cookbooks contain pie recipes that make their own crusts just from flour; others call for homemade biscuit mix. Copeland said that the Impossible Pie phenomenon lasted from the late 1970s through the 80s…

And now you know the rest of the story. But let me add that I have friends who are still making impossible pies. Last year, I copied a bunch of the recipes and sent them to a girlfriend.
Back to CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE: Sicherman asked “Did you ever wonder, when you were eating a piece of bread, how in the world anybody figured out what yeast would do what it does in there? Or have you ever wondered what caveman reasoned that smashing a chicken egg into some other stuff would be anything but peculiar? (or how many times he did it before it occurred to him to remove the shell?)…”

Now this opens an entirely new vista: I haven’t been worrying about eggs and yeast, having been focused on strange things in my cake batter, but you get the picture.

And then there are all sorts of other peculiar things like mock apple pie, being made from Ritz crackers –another topic for another day. (See my article title “Mock Apple Pie and other Foodie Wannabees” posted on 2/6/11)

If you want to try some of these recipes, here goes:

To make IMPOSSIBLE COCONUT PIE
2 CUPS milk
¼ cup butter or margarine
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup flaked or shredded coconut
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Bisquick baking mix

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pie plate, 9×1¼ x 1½ inches. Place all ingredients in blender container. Cover and blend on high 15 seconds. Pour into pie plate. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool.

One of my favorite Impossible pies is the pumpkin one – and since it’s just a few weeks until Thanksgiving, let me share this one with you too:

TO MAKE IMPOSSIBLE PUMPKIN PIE

1 CAN (16 OZ) pumpkin
1 can (13 oz) evaporated milk
2 TSP butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Bisquick Baking mix
2½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pie plate, 9×1¼ x 1½ inches. Beat all ingredients 1 minute in blender on high, or 2 minutes with hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

Zucchini Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
1 tsp EACH baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon,
1l2 tsp each nutmeg and salt
1/4 cup cocoa
3 eggs
1 tsp each vanilla extract and grated orange peel
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini (3 or 4)
1 cup walnuts or pecans
Use shredded raw or pureed cooked zucchini (gives a finer texture) Preheat oven 350.
Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and cocoa and set aside.
In large bowl beat eggs very light. Gradually add sugar and beat until fluffy and pale ivory in color. Slowly beat in oil.

Stir in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk and zucchini. Blend well. Add nuts (if using). Put into sheet cake pan or 2 9″ layer cake pans. Bake 350 40-45 minutes for layers, 1 hr for sheet. Layers: fill and frost with icing. Sheet cake: while warm drizzle with orange glaze.
GLAZE: Stir in bowl, 1 cup powdered sugar, 5 tsp orange juice, 1 tsp shredded orange peel and 1 TBSP hot melted butter.

AL SICHERMAN’S SAUERKRAUT FUDGE CAKE (requires 10” tube pan)

2/3 cup sauerkraut
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
9 oz dairy sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
PENUCHE GLAZE:
¼ CUP BUTTER
½ CUP BROWN SUGAR
2 TBSP HOT MILK
¾ CUP SIFTED POWDERED SUGAR

Thoroughly grease a10” tube pan. Cut a ring of brown paper to fit the bottom of the pan and grease that, too. (*if you don’t have any brown paper, I think parchment paper will work just as well)

Drain and rinse the sauerkraut and snip it into very small pieces.

Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda, salt and cocoa. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla.

Alternately add dry ingredients and water to the butter mixture, stirring after each addition and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients Fold in sauerkraut and chocolate chips.
Turn into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees 55 minutes to an hour, or until cake is springy. (Toothpick test won’t work). Remove from oven, cool 10 minutes; loosen cake from sides of pan with knife and invert on serving plate. Peel paper from the top. Prepare glaze; melt butter and brown sugar together. Boil 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Cool 10 minutes, then beat in hot milk. Add sifted powdered (confectioners) sugar, stirring until glaze consistency. Drizzle over slightly warm cake.

QUICK CHOCOLATE COOKIES

1 PKG chocolate cake mix, 2 layer size
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
½ cup Miracle Whip dressing
½ cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until blended. Drop by rounded teaspoonsful onto greased cookie sheets* Bake 10-23 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Makes 4 dozen.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: I’ve said this many times. I don’t grease cookie sheets anymore. I use parchment paper, cut to fit the cookie sheets and you can use it REPEATEDLY. It works much better than greasing the cookie sheets).

PINTO BEAN CAKE
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1/4 cup butter
• 1 egg
• 2 cups cooked pinto beans, mashed
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup golden raisins
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans
• 2 cups diced apple without peel

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease one 9 or 10 inch tube pan.
2. Cream butter or margarine and sugar together. Add the beaten egg and mix well. Stir in the mashed cooked beans and the vanilla.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground allspice together. Add the chopped pecans, golden raisins, and the diced apples to the flour mixture. Stir to coat. Pour flour mixture into the creamed mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 45 minutes. Dribble with a simple confectioner’s sugar icing and garnish with candied cherries and pecan halves, if desired.

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

¾ cup sauerkraut drained and chopped
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup water
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. Sift all dry ingredients together. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla. Beat eggs in one at a time.
2. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with water.
3. Add sauerkraut mix thoroughly.
4. Pour into greased pan or pans.
5. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until cake tests done.
6. Frost

CHOCOLATE MAYONNAISE CAKE
Ingredients:
• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 cup cocoa
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup sugar
• 3/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1 cup water
• 1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt. Cream together the sugar, mayonnaise, water and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture; stir until well blended. Pour batter into greased and floured layer cake pans (or a 9- x 13-inch pan). Bake at 350°F. for about 25 minutes.

RED BEET CAKE

1 3/4 c. flour
1 c. oil
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. pureed cooked fresh beets (if using canned, drain and mash.)
6 tbsp. carob or chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix flour, soda, salt and set aside. Combine sugar, eggs, oil in mixing bowl. Beat in beets, chocolate and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating well. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

This is an excellent cake. Healthy too. Very moist.

Chocolate Avocado Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soft avocado, well mashed, about 1 medium avocado
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch tins. Set aside. Sift together all of the dry ingredients except the sugar. Set that aside too. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a bowl, including the super mashed avocado. Add sugar into the wet mix and stir. Mix the wet with the dry all at once, and beat with a whisk (by hand) until smooth.

Pour batter into greased cake tins. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto cooling racks to cool completely before icing.
**
I read about a tomato soup cake “from Michigan” which made me wonder –DID tomato soup cake originate in Michigan? I turned to two of my favorite resources, AMERICA COOKS by the Browns, published in 1940 – attributes Tomato Soup Cake to Michigan, as do Larry Massie & Priscilla Massie in their fantastic cookbook “WALNUT PICKLES AND WATERMELON CAKE” which does indeed offer a recipe for tomato soup cake. Their recipe comes from a 1945 Kalamazoo community cookbook. Here is that recipe for tomato soup cake:

1 cup sugar
2 TSP shortening
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 can tomato soup
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup raisins
½ cup chopped nut meats

Cream shortening, add sugar, then tomato soup, then flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and soda. Then add raisins and nuts and bake in a loaf pan for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

And here is the Tomato Soup cake recipe in the Browns cookbook, “AMERICA COOKS”:

½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup tomato soup, undiluted
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Blend the shortening with sugar. Stir baking soda into tomato soup and add to shortening/sugar mixture. Sift dry ingredients and add the mixture. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Pour into greased and floured 13” by 9” cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Frost with a Cream Cheese Frosting.

To make the Browns’ Frosting for tomato soup cake:

1 pkg cream cheese
1 TBSP butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar to spreading consistency

The Browns note that the shortening they used was Crisco and one entire can of Campbell’s condensed and undiluted tomato soup equaled one cup. Now this may be a minor discrepancy in today’s can of Campbell’s tomato soup, inasmuch as all of the soups measure a net weight of 10 ¾ ounces…but when you pour the contents of a cream soup into a glass measuring cup—it’s just a shade over 8 ounces. What to do? Use a can of tomato soup and go ahead with the recipe. I don’t think it will make any difference. If you are a purist, scoop away anything over one cup.

Happy Cooking!

Sandy
*This blog article was originally posted on 11/11

SEARCHING FOR NIKA HAZELTON-THE NO-NONSENSE COOK

One of the first cookbooks that I read by Nika Hazelton was something titled, “I COOK AS I PLEASE”, published in 1974. It was one of the first cookbooks that I found in which the author had skillfully woven memoir with recipes—and I was charmed. I was also hooked and wanted to learn more about Nika Hazelton. I began searching for her cookbooks.

Researching a cookbook author is not always an easy task—years ago, very little biographical information about cookbook authors was provided by the publishers. Today, any well-known cookbook author (such as James Beard, Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher, to name a few), has biographies written about them and the publisher usually provides a fairly substantial background bio on the book jacket. This wasn’t the case with cookbooks published decades ago. But when the collection of recipes is also a memoir, much can be gleaned from within the pages of the book, and not just from the dust jacket.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Nika Hazelton was born in Rome, (German father, Roman mother), grew up in Switzerland, and received her schooling in England. Nika studied under Harold Laski at the London School of Economics. She spent her early years traveling to the capitals of Europe with her father, who was a German diplomat.

In 1935, Nika made her home in the United States. She was considered an expert in the food of many countries. Nika began writing cookbooks during World War II, and at least seven of those books were on European cuisine. In addition to writing cookbooks, Nika was editor of the Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Food and she wrote for virtually every major magazine, including The New Yorker, Family Circle, Vogue and Virginia Quarterly. . She also had a monthly column in The National Review and was a regular contributor to The New York Times. In addition, Nika was an editorial writer for Harper’s Bazaar, covering food stories. (With all the writing that she did for various magazines, it’s a wonder she found time to write cookbooks as well!).

One of her earliest books, “THE ART OF CHEESE COOKERY” was first published in 1949 by Doubleday & Company under the name of Nika Standen. Other books were published under the name of Nika Standen Hazelton and, later, just Nika Hazelton.

A clue to the type of cook she was can be found in the Introduction to “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN”, published in 1985. “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN” was not intended to be a cookbook for beginners. She lets you know from the onset that she assumes, if you have bought and are reading this book, you know something about cooking. She also explains that she likes simple foods made with the best ingredients available. Nika Hazelton was definitely a no-nonsense type of cook!

She used only freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the finest Tuscan olive oil (although she admitted to frying with peanut oil). She preferred butter over margarine for the simple reason that it tasted better. Nika never worried about cholesterol since she didn’t like fatty or greasy foods anyway and she removed all fat from meats and poultry (except when roasting a chicken!).

Nika said that she used few herbs and spices in her cooking because she disliked the flavor of too many herbs in one dish. “To my taste,” she wrote, I prefer to taste either basil or thyme or marjoram or sage or whatever in one dish rather than a combination of herbs.” However, she admitted to being less rigid with combinations of spices.

Nika wrote that she made cakes the old fashioned way, from scratch. She described her kitchen as being furnished with basic equipment, which included a KitchenAid mixer to mix, a Cuisinart to mince, a rotary peeler to peel and a small mandolin to cut transparent slices of potatoes and cucumbers. She writes, “My kitchen also sports a couple of balloon whisks, wooden spoons, good knives, and a very sharp pair of scissors, as well as the standard paraphernalia of measuring cups, mixing bowls, measuring spoons and so forth…”

She explains that she lived in the city and didn’t have much kitchen space, so she kept only bare essentials on hand in the pantry and said that she used very few canned foods (tomatoes, chickpeas and beans). Simplicity was Nika’s keyword throughout this introduction and to explain this philosophy, she said that she liked to keep things simple, possibly because throughout her life she had to cook for a family as well as professionally. Consequently, Nika adopted (to quote her), a “somewhat dispassionate” view of cooking—which may be a far cry from the themes of most professional cooks and cookbook authors. Generally, we expect a high level of enthusiasm from our cookbook authors! On the other hand, “FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN” was published in 1985 and the dear lady had been cooking and writing by this time for quite a few decades. Although I still haven’t determined the date of her birth we do know that she came to the United States in 1935 and wrote a number of cookbooks during World War II.

At the time of writing “I COOK AS I PLEASE”, published in 1974, the author was living on Riverside Drive in New York City, with her husband, with a view that looked over the green trees of Riverside Park and the Hudson River. This kitchen is also described as small and utilitarian. The author says, “It is by no means a display kitchen where I celebrate with imported cookware or run a cooking school. Nor,” she adds, “is it a family kitchen where the folks gather for warmhearted meals. Family meals with children,” she admonishes, “are horrible, yet children have to eat with their betters, as parents were called in a less permissive age, to learn at least a modicum of table manners…”

Nika thought teen-age meals no less awful, “Since fights lie beneath the surface. My children have known all this from early childhood, and even now when we have lived through a family meal, we all say: ‘Thank God, all has gone off well.”

Her kitchen in “I COOK AS I PLEASE” is described as having black Formica counters, a butcher block top and pine cabinets that got waxed three times a year, “and that,” she proclaims, “is it, even in dirty New York.” She describes the contents of cabinets and drawers in this kitchen, with “ironed towels done by the laundry because ironed kitchen towels are nice and life is too short to iron them…” This drawer also contained her aprons because it had been a hard and fast rule in her mother’s kitchen to wear an apron. Another drawer is described as holding “the flotsam and jetsam of kitchen life: Hungarian pastry brushes made from goose feathers, frames for making chocolate leaves, rubber bands, candles for blackouts, bottle tops with artistic design on top given to me by a five-year-old child as a token of her affection, fondue forks, scallop shells, measuring tapes, and a collection of never-consulted food leaflets, including one on how to make cheese at home…”

(This, from a woman who wrote an entire cookbook about cheese!).

She didn’t have a dishwasher—this woman who had a laundry service to iron her dishtowels—and said she could live without one since she didn’t find dishwashing nasty, “whereas,” Nika proclaims, “I find making beds nasty…”

“As I wash up, under running hot water” she explains, “I muse about any number of subjects. Dishwashing is much better for musing than lying in one’s bath or in bed….” (To which I have to agree. But I have to say, I don’t iron dishtowels, nor are they done at a laundry!)

Nika confessed that cookbooks were another one of the subjects she mused about as she washed dishes, and she writes an entire chapter about cookbooks in “I Cook As I Please”—she comments, quite rightly I think, that “cookbooks are mostly bought as escape literature, not to cook from…” Well, I don’t agree with Nika last sentence but perhaps that is how she felt about too many cookbooks in the 1970s. Of all the Hazelton cookbooks in my possession, “I COOK AS I PLEASE” remains my favorite.

Nika Standen Hazelton is the author (or co-author) of the following cookbooks:

• REMIISCENCE AND RAVIOLI, 1946, William Morrow & Co.
• THE ART OF CHEESE COOKERY, (published under the name of Nika Standen) Doubleday & Company, 1949
• THE CONTINENTAL FLAVOR, 1961
• CLASSIC SCANDINAVIAN COOKING, 1965, 1987 Galahad Books
• THE ART OF SCANDINAVIAN COOKING, 1965
• THE SWISS COOKBOOK, 1967 Atheneum Publishers
• HOUSE OF INDIA COOKBOOK, 1967, co-authored with Syed Abdullah.
• HAMBURGER, 1972, SIMON & SHUSTER
• DINNER AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE, 1972, by Charles Oliver FORWARD by Nika Hazelton
• I COOK AS I PLEASE, 1974, Grosset & Dunlap
• UNABRIDGED VEGETABLE COOKBOOK 1976
• NIKA HAZELTON’S WAY WITH VEGETABLES, 1976 , republished 1995 by Castle Books
• AMERICAN HOME COOKING, 1980, Viking Press
• FAMILY CIRCLE RECIPES AMERICA LOVES BEST, 1982
• NIKA HAZELTON’S PASTA COOKBOOK, 1984, Ballantine Books
• FROM NIKA HAZELTON’S KITCHEN, 1985, Viking Press
• UPS AND DOWNS, MEMOIRS OF ANOTHER TIME, 1989, Harper & Row
• THE BELGIAN COOKBOOK
• EGGS!
• THE PICNIC BOOK
• STEWS!
• CHOCOLATE!
• THE BEST OF ITALIAN COOKING
• THE ART OF DANISH COOKING
• WHAT SHALL I COOK TODAY?
• THE COOKING OF GERMANY (Food of the World Series)
• RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY’S COOKBOOK
• AMERICAN WINES
• THE REGIONAL ITALIAN KITCHEN
• LA CUISINE BY R. OLIVIER (translator and editor)
• THE RUSSIAN TEA ROOM COOKBOOK (co author Faith Stewart-Gordon)
• COOKIES AND BREADS; THE BAKER’S ART co-authored with Ilse Johnson and Ferdinand Boesch
• INGREDIENTS COOK’S* co-authored with Adrian Bailey and Philip Dowell (illustrator)

Like I have so many other times, I Googled Nika Standen Hazelton to see if I could find some biographical information. I did.

Nika Hazelton, Whose Cookbooks Influenced U.S. Tastes, Dies at 84

By MOLLY O’NEILL
Published: April 17, 1992

Nika Hazelton, whose cookbooks have been a mainstay of serious cooks for nearly half a century, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 84 years old and lived in Manhattan.
She died of natural causes after a lingering illness, said her son, Dr. S. A. Standen, who lives in London.

Mrs. Hazelton, the daughter of a German diplomat, was born in Rome, attended school there, and studied at the London School of Economics. She began her career as a reporter in 1930, covering the League of Nations for the German Press Association and then moving on to freelance work.
After marrying and emigrating to the United States in 1940, she began writing cookbooks with recipes culled primarily from home cooks throughout Europe and South America.

She published 30 books and they reflected her firm, no-nonsense taste in food. “American Home Cooking” (Bobbs Merrill, 1967), “French Home Cooking” (Viking Penguin, 1979,) “International Cookbook” (Harper & Row, 1967) and “The Italian Cookbook (Henry Holt, 1979) remain standards.
She was also a frequent contributor to the major food magazines and for several decades wrote a column about food, wine and travel for The National Review.

As cooking became trendy and precious in the United States, she seemed to raise a speculative eyebrow. Facing a group of wine writers in New York several years ago, Mrs. Hazelton waved aside questions about white truffles and little-known family vineyards. “I’m here to show you a meal from Tuscany that has the virtue of not being too expensive and not taking much genius or fuss to prepare,” she informed her audience and proceeded to demonstrate the proper way to make escarole and rice soup.

Her first marriage ended in divorce in 1954. She married Harold Hazelton in 1956. He died in November.

Mrs. Hazelton is survived by two sons, Dr. Standen and J. O. Standen, a lawyer in San Francisco, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3 P.M. on April 28 at St. Agnes Church on East 43d Street in Manhattan.

Correction: April 18, 1992, Saturday An obituary yesterday about the cookbook author Nika Hazelton misstated the day of her death and the date of a memorial service. She died on Wednesday, and the service will be on April 27, at 3 P.M., at the Church of St. Agnes, 141 East 43d Street, in Manhattan
**

I have to tell you, I was bemused to read about her comment to the group of wine writers, as indicated above in her obituary. That is so Nika.

*The obituary credits Ms. Hazelton with writing 30 cookbooks. Possibly they weren’t including the cookbooks she co-authored.

–Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook reading!

Sandra Lee Smith

*This blog article was originally posted in 2011

A FEW MORE MICHIGAN (COOKBOOK) FAVORITES

A few other Michigan cookbooks had been set aside after I finished posting “Saluting Michigan Friends & Kinfolk” so maybe you can consider this a “P.S.” to the earlier post.

One I am particularly fond of is a spiral bound church cookbook titled “AFTER GRACE” compiled by members of Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids to honor the 100th birthday of Grace Church.
Soon after church members began collecting recipes for a cookbook, one of their Guild members discovered, in her own cookbook collection, a copy of the 1892 Grace Church Cook Book which contained over a thousand recipes. They thought it would interesting to provide their readers with some of the recipes from the original Grace Church Cookbook. What a find! So, from the 1892 Grace Church Cookbook, here is a recipe for “grilled almonds” that reminds me of a candied almond I have made. To make Grilled Almond, Mrs. Seymour advises, “These are a very delicate candy, seldom met with outside of France. Blanch a cupful of almonds, dry them thoroughly; boil a cupful of sugar and ¼ cup of water til it hairs* throw in the almonds, let them fry, as it were, in the syrup, stirring occasionally; they will turn a faint yellow brown before the sugar changes color, do not wait an instant once this change of color begins, or they will lose their flavor, remove from the fire, stir them until the syrup turns back to sugar and clings irregularly to the nuts. You will find them delicious and they are an alternate at dinner with the salted almonds so fashionable.

Artichoke Dips are a popular appetizer in trendy restaurants nowadays – there is a really simple recipe in “After Grace” that would fit in a 3-ingredient cookbook as well. To make artichoke dip, you just need
2 jars marinated artichokes, drained
1 cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup diet or lite mayonnaise

Mix all ingredients in blender. Pour into a soufflé dish to bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with chips or crackers. ~~

One more for your next party – I first tasted these at one of my office potlucks—so good!

To make Seasoned Oyster Crackers you will need:

½ regular size package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
2 tsp dill
2 tsp garlic powder
1 (16 oz) box of oyster crackers
½ cup salad oil

Heat oil to warm. Mix dry ingredients with warm oil. Pour over crackers tossing until well mixed. Put on ungreased cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring often to keep from burning. Cool & serve. ~~

One thing that I love are Vidalia onions; they are in the supermarket for a brief period of time and then you have to go back to using plain old brown or white onions. When they are “in season” I buy a bunch and spend a day chopping them up and packing them in plastic freezer bags, the one quart size—so I can have them ready to use in recipes. Now this recipe caught my attention but you will have to use fresh Vidalias and slice them.

To make Vidalia Onion Casserole you will need

5 large Vidalia onions
1 stick margarine (or butter)
Parmesan cheese
Ritz crackers

Peel the onions and slice into thin rings. Sauté in margarine until limp or opaque. Pour half of the onions into a 1½ quart casserole. Cover with Parmesan cheese and crushed crackers. Repeat layers and bake, uncovered, in a 325 degree oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Yum! ~~
I have been unable to determine if copies of “After Grace” are still available. I have a email address for anyone who wants to try to buy one; sherrytrout@gracechurchgr.org. Apparently, my copy came from Schuler Books in Grand Rapids—the receipt was inside the book. ~~

Another church cookbook is “Welcome to our Table” compiled by members of the St Luke the Evangelist church in Bellaire, Michigan. This cookbook was published in 2007, relatively recently – so you may be able to find a copy.

Here is a recipe for Father Jim’s Pork Chops!

Pork chops
Aunt Jemima complete pancake mix
Olive oil
Onion

Wash pork chops in tap water. Dust the chops completely in the pancake mix; cover well. Brown the pork chops in a fry pan with olive oil. Place the browned chops in a casserole dish with onion slices on top. Add about ½ more chopped onions. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. ~~

Another from “Welcome to our Table” that has a unique twist to a breakfast brunch – is titled “Pepperoni Breakfast” and to make it you will need

2 ½ cups frozen shredded hash browns
1/3 cup chopped onion
3 TBSP butter
5 eggs
½ cup milk
1 tsp Italian seasoning
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
25 slices pepperoni
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

In a large skillet. Cook potatoes and onion in butter until tender and light brown. In a bowl, beat eggs, milk Italian seasoning, salt & pepper. Pour over potato mixture. Sprinkle with pepperoni. Cover and cook on medium-low for 10-12 minutes or until eggs are set. Remove from heat, sprinkle with cheese, cover and let stand for 2 minutes. Cut into wedges. Makes 6 servings.

The contributor this recipe was someone named Sharon Smith. No relation although I have a niece by marriage named Sharon Smith! ~~

I have been searching for the longest time for a tater tot casserole that I used to make for my sons when they were children. This sounds almost like it. To make Tater Tot Casserole you will need

1 lb hamburger,
¼ cup onion
1 c. grated cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 small package tater tots

Brown hamburger and put into a loaf pan. Layer onion, cheese, mushroom soup and tater tots on top (in that order). Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. ~~

I couldn’t find ordering information for “Welcome to our Table” but you could try this email address: stluke@torchlake.com. This would be a great addition to your cookbook collection! ~~
Another church cookbook that I can’t find a publishing date for is “First Assembly of God Cookbook/Our Favorite Recipes for Feeding our Flock”, from the First Assembly of God Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Sometimes when the cookbook committee is putting together their collection of recipes, the date of publication is overlooked. In any event, here is a nice recipe for making

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
3 cups biscuit mix
½ cup brown sugar, packed
¾ cup quick oatmeal (not instant)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, well beaten
1 ½ cups milk
¼ cup butter, melted
2 cups fresh blueberries

Combine biscuit mix, brown sugar, oatmeal and cinnamon. Set aside. In mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk and butter, mixing well. Add dry ingredients all at once and stir just until blended (do not beat). Fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into muffin cups* 2/3 full of batter. Sprinkle top of each with sugar. Bake in 40 degrees oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Place on rack to cool; after they have been removed from pan. ~~

(*Sandy’s cooknote: the person who contributed this recipe doesn’t say so, but be sure to either spray the muffin tins with Pam or other vegetable spray – or, do as I do; use paper cupcake liners for easy removal from the muffin pans.)

Also from First Assembly of God, I found a recipe for Crispy Baked Fish – I always have trouble getting fish to turn out crispy so I am going to try this recipe that sounds delish. To make Crispy
Baked Fish you will need

Butter or oil
6 fish fillets
6 tsp Dijon mustard
½ cup bread crumbs
Cooked rice

Butter or oil a large shallow baking pan. Butter one side of fillets and lay in a single layer in baking pan. Spread top of each fillet with 1 tsp Dijon mustard and then sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake at 400 degrees until fish I fully cooked and flakes easily, about 20 minutes. Check for doneness after 15 minutes to prevent overcooking. Serve fillets whole with cooked rice. Sprinkle with garnish of parsley to serve. ~~

Typing this recipe brought back a memory of an Almondine Fish recipe that my penpal Betsy had given to me years ago. I think the top of the fish was sprinkled with slivers of almonds. Well, my husband and children wouldn’t eat anything with NUTS in it – so I would run the almonds through the blender and mix them with the bread crumbs called for in the recipe. They never knew the difference.

First Assembly of God doesn’t provide any ordering information but there IS a telephone number on the first page of the cookbook – try 616 965 5441 and ask whoever answers if they have any of the cookbooks left!

Happy Cooking & even more happy cookbook Collecting!

Sandy

** Originally posted on my blog in 2011.

A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING by Michael Symons

How does a writer compile, in one volume, a book about the history of cooks and cooking? And yet, this is exactly what author Michael Symons has set out to do.

The University of Illinois Press (demonstrating once again the incomparable value of the books provided by University Presses) has published A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING. *

In the preface to A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING, the author notes, “Between us, we have eaten an enormous number of meals. We have nibbled, gorged and hungered our way through history. Cooks have been in charge…finding, sharing and giving food meaning. We could not have survived without them. They have been everywhere yet writers have hardly noticed. In fact, I suggest that t his is the first book devoted to the essential duties and historical place of cooks…”

Symons claims, “If this is, with few qualifications, the world’s first book on the world’s most important people, it implies a surprising intellectual oversight. Nearly two and a half millennia ago, Plato warned against an interest in cooks, and western scholars have largely complied. Almost without exception they have failed to inquire into the chief occupation of at least half the people who have ever lived. Even thinkers must eat…”

And while I might not totally agree with Symons assertion—and finding myself wondering exactly why Plato warned the world against an interest in cooks—I do concur with his statement that “Cookery books are so consumable that French Chef Raymond Oliver compares them with wooden spoons, ‘one is astonished at the number which have disappeared…”

Symons states, “We have devoured innumerable books on how and what to cook, and even some about certain cooks and aspects of cooking, but this abundance makes the central gap even more peculiar. There are so many texts for, and so few, about cooks…cooks have always been in the background both ever present and unnoticed. Their contributions have seemed too common, pervasive, trivial, unproblematic…”

He also writes, “Virtually every archaeological dig, every diary, every streetscape tells the cooks’ tale. We do not lack evidence, and can appropriate much scholarship. But no one has tried to pull this all together. Since the nineteenth century, we have become so hyper-specialized that we scarcely know any longer how to place cooks within the great scheme of things…”

Symons also observes that, “If we are what we eat, cooks have not just made our meals, but they have also made us….”

The author provides, in the preface, a capsule breakdown of the chapters and the best way to give you some idea what this book is really about, is to quote Symons himself:

“In quest of cooks,” he begins, “we initially enter the kitchen of just one Sydney chef, Phillip Searle, (Chapter One). The book then relates how certain novelists have portrayed some cooks (Chapter Two) and finds the gastronomic tradition; often appreciative (chapter Three). Having traced the development of fire (Chapter Four), existing assumptions about what cooks do are examined (Chapter Five), why their key tool is the knife (Chapter Seven and how they are behind festivals, beauty and love (Chapter Eight).

Symons embarks on a journey, exploring how food, and the cooks who prepared it, were written about in books, including Laura Ingalls Wilder’s THE LONG WINTER, AND Nora Ephron’s HEART BURN, touches on the American diner and street food, the contributions of various famous chefs, such as Henri Charpentier. (In yet another instance of synchroniscity, I acquired a book about Henri Charpentier and have written about him in an article for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange and on my blog).

The publishers explain, “Symons sets out to explore the civilizing role of cooks in history. His wanderings take us to the clay ovens of the prehistory eastern Mediterranean and the bronze cauldrons of ancient China, to fabulous banquets in the temples and courts of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia, to medieval English cookshops and southeast Asian street markets, to palace kitchens, diners and modern fast-food eateries.

Symons samples conceptions and perceptions of cooks and cooking from Plato and Descartes, to Marx and Virginia Woolf, asking why cooks, despite their vital and central role in sustaining life, have remained in the shadows, unheralded, unregarded and underappreciated…”

No longer. Michael Symons’ A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING FROM THE University of Illinois Press has provided a tribute to cooks and will surely join the ranks of all other important food-related books.
*The Australian author uses the European spellings, whereas Americans spell many of these words with a Z instead of an S—I’ve corrected them for easier reading in this post—for one thing, my spellcheck has a nervous breakdown whenever I try to use European spellings.

Well, I don’t necessarily agree with much of what Symons has written but I wrote a review of this book for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 2001—and I think much has changed in our culinary landscape in the past eleven years. If nothing else, programs such as those shown on the Food Network focus on cooks and chefs all the time. There have also been many more books about individual cooks and chefs as well. Still, you may want to read A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING and decide for yourself. And even though this was published by the University of Illinois Press, the Australian author’s viewpoint may reflect what he has observed and studied in Australia.

Michael Symons is a former journalist for Sydney Morning Herald and also the author of “THE PUDDING THAT TOOK A THOUSAND COOKS.”

Symons is also the author of two other food-related books, ONE CONTINUOUS PICNIC: A HISTORY OF EATING IN AUSTRALIA, and THE SHARED TABLE.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

*Originally posted in 2012. So many of my subscribers are so interested in food and cooking history that I thought this would appeal to many of you who know who you are! – sls

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DINNERS

CHERYL AND BILL JAMISON are names you should recognize if you have been following my cookbook reviews for any length of time—I am unable to find my history on this couple at the present time—possibly because I lost a lot of material when I bought a new computer—and that came about after being seriously HACKED although I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would be interested in hacking MY files – inasmuch as everything I have written about cooking and cookbook authors can be found on my Blog. Well, let me get to the point—I was unpacking a box of cookbooks to put on the shelves in the garage library (I think someone must have given them to me) and I found a cookbook by the Jamisons that I was totally unfamiliar with!

And it was published not so very long ago, in 2008 (for me, that’s recent); the title is AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DINNERS, The Ultimate Culinary Adventure, with the intriguing subtitle “50,000 MILES, 10 COUNTRIES, 800 DISHES AND 1 ROGUE MONKEY” This book is in pristine condition with a spotless dust jacket that I wish I knew how to copy and post with this article. Published by Harper Collins, the dust jacket offers a charming photograph of the Jamisons, with the notation “Cheryl and Bill Jamison are the authors of more than a dozen cookbooks and travel guides. They appear regularly on television, and are frequent contributors to publications, including COOKING LIGHT and BON APPETIT. They live just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.” I have to confess, my bafflement has just increased—I subscribe to both Cooking Light and Bon Appetit and don’t recall seeing any of their articles. (which means I will get out stacks of the latter magazine, which I keep, to search for the Jamisons)

Well, the first thing on MY mind, maybe yours too, was “Where did the Jamisons go? Per the dustjacket, “After years of writing award-winning cookbooks, renowned culinary experts Cheryl and Bill Jamison were ready for a break. So in the fall of 2005 they packed their bags, locked up their house in Santa Fe, and set off on a three-month-long visit to ten countries—all on frequent flyer miles. Among their stops were

Bali

Australia

New Caledonia

Thailand

India

China

South Africa

Brazil

–and don’t forget France

I have to add that this book reminds me so much of the foreign countries one of my favorite authors, Myra Waldo visited and wrote about decades before the Jamisons. I can’t help but wonder if the Jamisons knew about Myra Waldo or were inspired by her.

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DINNERS” is as much prose (their adventures) as it is poetry (the recipes). Now, there have been many cookbooks written about food in other countries (perhaps more so after WW2 than prior to it, when our soldiers returned home with new recipes and in many instances, brides as well—but anything that the Jamisons write is sure to be interesting and transporting the reader to another country.

And while “Around the World in 80 Dinners” may take you on charming visits to these countries, I have to tell you there are only actually ten recipes in the book itself (yes, I counted) – so you will have to read the book for the ADVENTURES more than the recipes—although there is one made with your Wok, Charred Long Beans with Black Olives, that I have already earmarked to try.

If you yearn for a cookbook providing more recipes, may I suggest another Jamison favorite, AMERICAN HOME COOKING, which contains over 300 recipes.

I really enjoy the Jamisons’ style of writing—whether recipes or travel adventures; you feel like you know them and are a part of their circle of friends.

 

Continue reading

(Still) TENDER AT THE BONE

TENDER AT THE BONE BY RUTH REICHL was previously posted on my Blog—but reading Reichl’s latest book, RUTH REICHL, MY KITCHEN YEAR, 136 RECIPES THAT SAVED MY LIFE” reminded me of my love for her early memoir, TENDER AT THE BONE – and so I am re-writing that memoir:

“I just finished re-reading Ruth Reichl’s early memoir TENDER AT THE BONE and want to tell you, this is a must for all of us—for everyone who loves to cook, for anyone who grew up in the 40s or the 50s but especially in New York; for anyone who appreciates good food, for all of us who enjoy a good story—for those of us who have suffered in the not-too-distant past the idiosyncrasies of our mothers—but mostly for all of us who appreciate the lure and calling of the kitchen.

I first read about Ruth Reichl’s TENDER AT THE BONE in a lengthy, fascinating review that appeared around the time Reichl’s memoir was first published and was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times. The review was actually a reprint of chapter two, titled Grandmothers, and it captivated everyone who read it—along with everyone who ever enjoyed having a wonderful grandmother. In it, Ruth describes the relationship she enjoyed all her life with her father’s first wife’s mother, Aunt Birdie, who was—at four feet eight, the smallest grown-up that Ruth or any of her friends had ever seen.

From Aunt Birdie and Aunt Birdie’s cook, Alice, Ruth was introduced to the kitchen and from Aunt Birdie, Ruth received the one thing all of us as children need and cherish—unconditional love. Aunt Birdied, incidentally, so desperately wanted to be a grandmother that she presented herself at the hospital when Ruth was born, and volunteered herself for the job.

Ruth Reichl has been a restaurant critic for the New York Times, New West Magazine, California magazine, and the Los Angeles Times newspaper, and was editor in chief for Gourmet Magazine until it folded (I began re-subscribing to Gourmet when Ruth became editor its chief. I loved everything she wrote and attempted to follow her career). She also edited ENDLESS FEASTS which was a tribute to sixty years of writing from Gourmet. ENDLESS FEASTS was published in 2002. It’s the perfect book to carry around with you on errands to the post office or bank, wherever you may find yourself standing in line—the short stories are ideal for waiting-in-line and the book is small enough to fit into most purses.

Ruth Reichl was a writer and editor who was the Editor in Chief of Gourmet Magazine for ten years until its closing in 2009. Before that she was the restaurant critic of the The New York Times, (1993-1999), and both the restaurant critic and food editor of the Los Angeles Times (1984-1993). As co-owner and cook of the collective restaurant The Swallow from 1974 to 1977, she played a part in the culinary revolution that took place in Berkeley, California.

From Ruth Reichl’s official biography, we learned that she began writing about food in 1972, when she published “Mmmmm: A FEASTIARY”. Since then, she has authored the critically acclaimed, best-selling memoirs Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You Mom, Finally, (originally published as Not Becoming My Mother and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way). She is the editor of The Modern Library Food Series, which currently includes ten books—I was curious about this series and checked through both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble to see what all is in the series. (It looks like something I will want to order and write about—one thing that stunned me was the discovery that Henri Charpentier is the subject of one of the books. I wrote about Charpentier in January, 2011, on my blog—but had written about him long before that, for the cookbook Collectors Exchange).

Reichl has also written the introductions to Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery: Recipes for the Connoisseur (1996) and The Measure of Her Powers: An M.F.K. Fisher Reader (2000), and the foreword for Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji (2007). She is featured on the cover of Dining Out: Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs and Restaurants, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (1998), History in a Glass: Sixty Years of Wine Writing from Gourmet, 2006, and Gourmet Today, 2009.

Ms. Reichl has been honored with six James Beard Awards (one for magazine feature writing and one for multimedia food journalism in 2009; two for restaurant criticism, in 1996 and 1998; one for journalism, in 1994; and Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, 1984) and with numerous awards from the Association of American Food Journalists. In 2007, she was named Adweek’s Editor of the Year. She received the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, presented by the Missouri School of Journalism, in October 2007. Ms. Reichl received the 2008 Matrix award for Magazines from New York Women in Communications, Inc..

She is also the recipient of the YWCA’s Elizabeth Cutter Morrow Award. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Michigan and lives in New York City with her husband, Michael Singer, a television news producer, and their son.

Whew! I hope you were able to keep up with me listing all of that!

Right now, I’d like to focus on TENDER AT THE BONE, an early memoir but not the very first. That would be “Mmmmm: A Feastiary” published in 1972.

TENDER AT THE BONE is the story of Reichl’s life and how it led her to the kitchen from early childhood to the present. This is not really a cookbook although it does contain some of Reichl’s favorite recipes, including Aunt Birdie’s famous potato salad and Alice’s apple dumplings with hard sauce.

Many of Reichl’s experiences in life struck a familiar chord – when she tells of being sent to a French girls school in Canada—where everyone except Ruth spoke French—and how out of place and foreign she felt – I was instantly reminded of my first year at a Catholic Girls’ High School where everyone seemed to know where to go and how to behave, except me, (one nun never forgave me for walking into the cloister to get to my science class, not believing that I had no idea what “cloister” meant—although fifty years later when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our graduation, Sister Seraphia—reading my confession about the cloister in the school’s quarterly booklet—conceded that I probably didn’t really know what “cloister” meant). As for me, I made it my business forever after to learn the meaning of any word I was unfamiliar with. It was a good lesson).   And while my mother may not have been quite as outrageous as Ruth’s, mine may have run a close second. It took many years for my siblings and I to discover that it wasn’t the food we disliked; it was the way mom cooked it. (Oh?   You mean rice isn’t intended to be a hard sticky ball like library paste?) Ruth says her mother was taste-blind, as some people are color-blind. My mother was pre-occupied with managing to feed seven people with one pound of hamburger meat (you keep adding bread to the ground beef. None of us knew what a real hamburger tasted like until we grew up and could order something from a local Frisches’ diner.)

TENDER AT THE BONE, write the publishers, is the story of a life determined, enhanced, and defined in equal measure by unforgettable people, the love of tales, well told, and a passion for food. In other words, the stuff of the best literature. The journey begins with Reichl’s mother, the notorious food-poisoner, known forevermore as the Queen of Mold and moves on to the fabled Mrs. Peavey, onetime Baltimore socialite millionairess, who for a brief but poignant moment, was retained as the Reichl’s maid. Then we are introduced to Monsieur du Croix, the gourmand who so understood and yet was awed by this prodigious child at his dinner table that when he introduced Ruth to the soufflé, he could only exclaim “What a pleasure to watch a child eat her first soufflé!…”

In an Amazon.com Internet interview with Ruth Reichl, she explains that she didn’t start out thinking she was writing a memoir; she just really wanted to do some writing that was not just restaurant reviews. We also learn from the interview that Ruth is a kindred spirit to us all—she has hundreds of cookbooks. The Fannie Farmer cookbook is one of her all-time favorites (and in TENDER AT THE BONE you discover her introduction to, and friendship with, cookbook author Marion Cunningham who wrote the latest version for the Fannie Farmer Cookbook).

Ruth says she loves Marian Morash’s vegetable book THE VICTORY GARDEN COOKBOOK and was greatly impressed with Rozanne Gold’s RECIPES 1-2-3, (previously reviewed on my blog).

Ruth Reichl also loves Richard Olney’s books, especially SIMPLE FRENCH FOOD and says that one more book she really loves and has had for about twenty years is GOOD FOOD OF SZECHWAN.

TENDER AT THE BONE is available on Amazon.com or from one of many private vendors for a pre-owned copy. Alibris.com also has pre owned copies .I do hope that all of Ruth Reichl’s fans will buy a copy of RUTH REICHL – MY KITCHEN YEAR. (which I will write about when I finish reading it)

review by Sandra Lee Smith